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Ballot Initiative Revival Effort Dies For Third Year in Mississippi Senate

Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, speaks during debate
Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch, chair of the Mississippi Senate Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency Committee, said in early March 2024 that efforts to revive a ballot initiative process were "on life support" because of significant differences between the Mississippi House and Senate. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi legislators are unlikely to restore a ballot initiative process this year after a Senate chairman killed a proposal Monday.

The move came days after the Senate voted 26-21 to pass a bill that would have allowed Mississippi residents to put some policy proposals on statewide ballots. But the bill needed another Senate debate and that never happened because Republican Sen. David Parker, of Olive Branch, who chairs the Accountability, Efficiency and Transparency Committee, didn’t bring it back up before a Monday deadline.

Parker said last week that efforts to revive an initiative process were “on life support” because of significant differences between the House and Senate. Republicans control both chambers.

Starting in the 1990s, Mississippi had a process for people to put proposed state constitutional amendments on the ballot, requiring an equal number of signatures from each of the five congressional districts. Mississippi dropped to four districts after the 2000 census, but initiative language was never updated. That prompted the Mississippi Supreme Court to invalidate the initiative process in a 2021 ruling.

In 2022 and 2023, the House and Senate disagreed on details for a new initiative process.

Republican House Speaker Jason White has said this year that restoring initiatives was a core concern of many voters during the 2023 election.

The House adopted a resolution in January to restore the initiative process through a constitutional amendment, which would have eventually required a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. The Senate bill would not have required a two-thirds House vote because it wouldn’t change the state constitution, but it contained provisions that could have been a tough sell in the House.

Under the House proposal, an initiative would need more than 150,000 signatures in a state with about 1.9 million voters. To be approved, an initiative would need to receive at least 40% of the total votes cast. The Senate version would have required 67% of the total votes cast.

Parker and some other senators said they wanted to guard against out-of-state interests pouring money into Mississippi to get issues on the ballot.

Both the House and Senate proposals would have banned initiatives to alter abortion laws. Legislators cited Mississippi’s role in enacting a law that laid the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court to upend abortion rights nationwide.

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